Suciwati Sues, Garuda Denies

CHAIRUL Anam feels that all the “ammunition for battle” brought into the court room is now enough. A stack of evidence that Garuda Airlines committed violations resulting in the death of Munir has been handed over to the judges. Suciwati’s lawyer is convinced that Garuda will be knocked out in the face of the civil suit presented by his party. “The supporting evidence is very strong,” said the lawyer from the Jakarta Legal Aid Foundation (LBH) who is also an activist with the Human Rights Working Group.

Suciwati’s suit calls for PT Garuda Indonesia to be held responsible for Munir’s death during a flight from Singapore to Amsterdam, Holland on September 7, 2004. Eleven parties are being sued by Suciwati, including Garuda, Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto and the pilot who flew the GA974 flight Munir took from Jakarta to Amsterdam.
In the 19-page lawsuit, the mother of two children asserts that Garuda et al committed a number of acts against the law. Starting with moving her husband from an economy class seat to one in business class, the presence of a passenger who used legally flawed documents to neglect in the serving of food and beverages. In the civil suit, Suciwati is demanding non-material damages of around Rp9 billion and material damages of Rp4 billion. This total is based on a calculation of Munir’s future income and family responsibilities that must now be shouldered by Suciwati.

During the flight, Munir should have occupied economy class seat 40G. In fact he ended up sitting in business class seat 3K. Munir moved to business class thanks to the “kindness” of Pollycarpus. “The transfer violated the 1929 Warsaw Convention,” said Jakarta LBH Chair Asfinawati, who is also Suciwati’s lawyer. According to the convention, which regulates international aviation, an exchange of seats is only allowed on technical grounds or because an airline company has over sold tickets.
Likewise, on the issue of Pollycarpus joining the flight as an aviation and internal security officer on the flight. According to Asfinawati, Pollycarpus was not given any special duty documents by Garuda chief pilot Kamal Fauza Sembiring. Pollycarpus only had a document issued by the Vice President of Corporate Security Ramelgia Anwar that was backdated. “This violates the Warsaw Convention because it can be cited as intentionally committing a crime,” said Asfinawati. According to Asfinawati, the Supreme Court in its verdict on October 3 last year declared that Pollycarpus had used a falsified document. “The Court’s verdict reinforces our argument,” said Asfinawati.

Suciwati is also suing Garuda for negligence in the supervision of food. Munir was indeed found to have died of poisoning. According to Asfinawati, the initial reaction of a person who has ingested arsenic poison occurs around 90 minutes after the chemical enters the body. Munir felt the initial symptoms of poisoning when disembarking at Changi Airport and then died on September 7 at around 11pm. According to Asfinawati, the Garuda flight taken by Munir departed from Jakarta at 9.55pm. “Meaning, the arsenic was administer during the Jakarta-Singapore leg of the journey.”

Even if the administration of the poison is deemed to have been unintentional said Asfinawati, Garuda can still be said to have committed gross negligence. According to Asfinawati, the act not only violated the Warsaw Convention, but also violated Government Regulation No. 3/2001 on Aviation Safety, as well as Garuda’s own Basic Operations Manual.

Other evidence being used as grounds to sue Garuda is that the national airline company was unprofessional in dealing with Munir’s illness. Chairul points out that an internal Garuda investigation said that the Garuda cabin crew did not attempt to contact officials on the ground to seek medical assistance when Munir fell sick. The medicines and equipment used to treat Munir also appear to have been submitted as evidence. “They did not follow their own basic operations manual,” said Chairul.

Garuda itself has persisted in stating that it did not violate any regulations in the death of Munir. On the issue of Munir exchanging seats for example, according to Garuda’s attorney Heru Santoso it does not in any way violate the Warsaw Convention. The actions said Heru, were not upgrading, when a person is upgraded from economy class to business class. “Because the total number of economy class and business class passengers remained the same.” Moreover says Heru, the exchange was done voluntarily. “During flights practices such as this often take place.”

On the question of Pollycarpus not having a special duty document, Heru pointed out that there were reasons for this. During Pollycarpus’ trial, Heru said that he had asked about the whereabouts of Kamal when the Munir case took place. It turned out that Kamal was currently flying to China. According to Heru, the Supreme Court’s decision that declared Pollycarpus had used falsified documents cannot be all of a sudden used as evidence of wrongdoing by Garuda. “It must first be proved that the falsified document damaged or can be linked to Munir’s murder,” he said.

Heru also denied that Munir was poisoned after drinking orange juice in the flight between Jakarta and Singapore. According to Heru, the time period between being given the drink and the flight landing at Changi Airport was around 1 hour and forty minutes. “But the evidence, was that Munir still appeared in good health upon arriving at Changi Airport,” said Heru.

On the question of the poisoning of Munir, another of Garuda’s attorneys, Mohammad Assegaf, suspects that it actually took place in Change Airport. Assegaf’s reasoning is that the symptoms of poisoning only appeared after Munir was aboard the plane on the flight between Singapore and Amsterdam. Chairul disagrees with Assegaf opinion. “Changi is the third safest airport in the world,” he said. “That accusation must be proven.”

On the question of the Garuda flight crew not seeking assistance from the ground, according to Heru, was because a Dr. Tarmizi was already treating Munir. Munir got acquainted with the doctor who practices at the Harapan Kita Hospital in Jakarta when the plane stopped off at Changi Airport. “Moreover the doctor also did not ask the pilot to contact the nearest airport to find a health official,” he said. Based on these arguments, Assegaf and Heru say that it is unreasonable to sue Garuda. “Because there is no evidence that Munir was fatally poisoned aboard the Garuda plane,” said Assegaf.

Although having started last September, it appears that the civil suit will be a long one. Over the next few weeks it will be the turn of Garuda to give their response to the Central Jakarta Court. “We are just listening and making notes,” said Chairul.

Speaking with Tempo, aviation legal expert Endang Saefullah Wiradipradja explained that international conventions do indeed oblige airline companies to provide compensation in cases that are related to aviation safety. In cases involving domestic flights, the compensation is around Rp40 million while for international flights it is around Rp180 million. But this figure is not a definitive amount. “In the Munir case for example, the compensation could be greater if Munir’s family can prove there was an element of intent or extraordinary negligence on the part of Garuda,” said the Bandung Islamic University Rector.

Abdul Manan, Rana Akbari Fitriawan (Bandung)

Tempo Magazine, No. 21/VII/Jan 23 – 29, 2007

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